COMMENTARY

Justice for Cameron, the good doctor who recognizes trouble, on "Virgin River"

The practice's newest doctor deserves better but nice guys finish last on the Netflix show

Published July 30, 2022 3:30PM (EDT)

Mark Ghanimé as Cameron in "Virgin River" (Courtesy Of Netflix)
Mark Ghanimé as Cameron in "Virgin River" (Courtesy Of Netflix)

This article contains spoilers for season 4 of "Virgin River."

It's hard being the new kid. Just ask Mel Monroe. When she shows up for her new job as nurse practitioner in the small, Northern California town of Virgin River, she's greeted with a shotgun. Her greeter, Dr. Vernon Mullins (Tim Matheson) is her boss, though he doesn't know it or want it yet, but as the fourth season of "Virgin River" has arrived on Netflix, Mel (Alexandra Breckenridge) and Doc have made peace with working together and have been friends for a long time.

Maybe that's why the next new kid on the medical block has an easier time of it. Dr. Cameron Hayek (Mark Ghanimé) has been hired by Doc to give him and Mel a bit of a break. Doc is getting older and his beloved wife Hope (Annette O'Toole) needs care after a brain injury. Meanwhile, Mel is quietly dealing with issues of her own. This wouldn't be "Virgin River" if we didn't have an ocean's worth of secrets. 

But even though his reception is warm, Cameron's ending may not be. Steadfast, supportive and in the unenviable position of being the possible new angle in a lopsided romantic triangle, Cameron Hayek deserves better.  

The latest season of the comforting and vaguely traumatizing Netflix soap finds Mel secretly pregnant, either by embryos conceived with her dead husband or via her longtime boyfriend, Jack. I'm a Luke Dane apologist (and before that, a Mr. Rochester one) so of course I have a soft spot for a manly bar and grill owner like Jack (Martin Henderson), an ex-Marine steadfast with his love and struggling with his feelings. 

Behind such kindness you know lurks a history of being hurt.

Jack and Mel have had a typically long road to being together, more winding even than the way out of Virgin River's logging camps (nothing good happens at these logging camps — trust me). They're together. They're broken up. Various people get pregnant. Some, with twins.  

Virgin River

Alexandra Breckenridge as Mel Monroe and Mark Ghanimé as Cameron in "Virgin River" (Courtesy Of Netflix)

Enter the new guy. As Decider writes: "The entire purpose of his character is to be an openly hot, single doctor." But in Ghanimé's portrayal, Cameron is more than just a thorn in Jack's rugged side. Cameron is earnest and hopeful. Despite coming from the city, he adapts to the slow pace of small Virgin River, quicker than Mel did to her rustic cabin. When he asks about computer software for scheduling medical appointments, and Mel tells him: "You're gonna need a pen," he simply smiles and says, "Right." No city boy protests here and no slicker pretensions. 

Ghanimé's face reveals a bittersweet openness that borders on pain: behind such kindness in Cameron you know lurks a history of being hurt (we'll get into that). Cameron is easygoing and immediately friendly with Mel. Too friendly, according to some fans.

Ever positive, almost sickeningly so, Cameron says, "At the end of every shift, I like to ask whomever I'm with what the high point of their day was." After Mel relates a story about psoriasis, Cameron says his high point was when Mel said he was attractive. (This made my partner, who I had roped into a cold watch of this season's premiere, having never seen the show before, gasp.) Mel backpedals: she was simply pointing out why the waiting room was full of the women of Virgin River, hoping to get a glimpse of the new, eligible doctor.

Virgin RiverMark Ghanimé as Cameron and Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan in "Virgin River" (Courtesy Of Netflix)

Cameron, where were you when I was pregnant?

In Cameron's defense, he doesn't know Mel is partnered at the time. Once he knows, he does back off his pursuit of her but he doesn't back down from being a good friend. He has dinner with Mel and Jack, spending a long time alone with Jack when Mel is late; Jack is not the most sparkling of conversationalists under the best of circumstances, so that can't have been easy. But Cameron handles it all in stride. A people pleaser, he wants to be helpful. 

That thoughtfulness continues when Cameron accidentally overhears that Mel is pregnant (she and Jack are not telling anybody yet due to a past stillbirth and the whole uncertain paternity thing). Cameron says nothing to Mel; he simply quietly and obsessively stocks the fridge at the medical practice with fruit, vegetables, juice, and easy, healthy snacks, and lines the cupboards with tea. He also purchases a pricy air purifier. Once Mel learns he knows, he offers to cover her shifts at work or drive her to appointments. Cameron, where were you when I was pregnant?

"Virgin River" is all about hard subjects presented in a sweet, fantasy land where the river is wide and the townspeople forgiving.

Cameron respects Mel's decision to be with Jack, but he does say his piece: telling Mel he thinks she (and her baby) deserve better than Jack. This brought out the ire in fans, but he has his own reasons for doing so, not entirely selfish ones: Cameron has experience loving someone with addiction issues.

Virgin RiverAlexandra Breckenridge as Mel Monroe, Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan, Christina Jastrzembska as Lydie and Grayson Maxwell Gurnsey as Ricky in "Virgin River" (Courtesy Of Netflix)And this season, more than in others, Jack hasn't really been making his own case: never showing up to an important family wedding because he was sleeping off a bender in his car — the day he promises Mel he'll quit drinking. "Virgin River" is all about hard subjects presented in a sweet, fantasy land where the river is wide and the townspeople forgiving, but the sight of Jack leaving pregnant Mel in bed as he goes outside with a bottle of whisky is rough. He constantly pushes down his emotions, does not let anyone in and then acts out in destructive ways.

Nice guys tend to finish last in "Virgin River." Look at Ricky, who lost out on his first love, and Preacher, who is the hot glue holding the town together.

The story has given Jack a whole boatload of trauma to carry — and they keep piling on more, as this season reveals a mystery brother somehow everyone forgot to mention? – but while Jack's PTSD-tinged behavior rings true, would Mel continually stay with a guy so unstable the whole town has to go out looking for him? So unreliable, that Cameron quietly calls the morgue? Jack's also resistant to getting help, finally agreeing to therapy at the end of the season after repeated urging from Mel and others who love him. 

Virgin RiverMartin Henderson as Jack Sheridan and Alexandra Breckenridge as Mel Monroe in "Virgin River" (Courtesy Of Netflix)

Showy displays of romance mean little without day-to-day dependability.

Nice guys tend to finish last in "Virgin River." Look at Ricky, who lost out on his first love, and Preacher, who is the hot glue holding the town together (not to mention Jack's Bar) while never having romantic or personal fulfillment of his own. Will Cameron be another casualty, the steady voice of reason on an unreasonable show? Cameron's sensible words to Mel ("You're going to need someone you can count on . . . You have to think of your future") have mostly been drowned out by Jack's big gestures. But showy displays of romance mean little without day-to-day dependability. Personally, I would trade every fairy-lit Airstream in the world for someone who shows up when they say they will.

One last vote in favor of Cameron? He's emotionally mature enough to know when to stop talking, and when to bow out. He's honest about his feelings for Mel: "I care about you. Maybe a little bit more than I should." But he knows he can't work professionally alongside her feeling how he does (about her, about Jack), and agrees to leave. Like most best-laid plans in the town of Virgin River, that doesn't quite work out.


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It can't be easy to come into orbit of an established and beloved (if problematic) pair, to possibly try to come between them. But Cameron reminds Mel she has options. It doesn't have to be Jack. It doesn't have to be anyone. Mel can choose herself. And as for Cameron? One viewer has an idea:


By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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